The truth about Omega 3 Posted on 1 Nov 00:00 , 0 comments
If you’ve ever wondered why your low fat diet’s not working or your hormones are driving you mad, it might pay to check your fat intake. Whether you are seeking help with weight loss, high cholesterol, allergies, skin conditions or arthritis, you’re likely to need an oil-change. As far as I’m concerned, an intake of Omega 3 is non-negotiable.
Think twice before you adopt a fat-free diet because Omega 3 is the new Holy Grail in nutrition. Dietary advice is confusing but we can thank the Eskimos for helping us discover fat and it’s beneficial role in health.
The real science behind fish oil began in the seventies. When the low-fat Beverley Hills Diet was sweeping across the world. Up until the Eskimo study, the low-fat message was turning us into a bunch of neurotic label readers. Supermarket shelves were heaving with low fat products promising heart health and weight management. So if low fat was the way to go, then why did we get fatter?
Studies on population health more than thirty years ago highlighted the low incidence of heart disease among Eskimos with a high fat diet. Fast-forward to 2010 and we are now making sense of the phenomenon. The Eskimos diet was high in fish oil, this led researchers to discover the essential health properties of Omega 3.
Essential fat is essential
Understanding the benefits of fat in the diet is easy when you consider the human body and it’s makeup. As Dr Michael Colgan states, “ our bodies are all just hairy bags of protein, water and minerals. “ The human body is a dynamic construction site, every cell is replaced over time based on what we eat. Protein is needed to supply amino acids that rebuild and repair, vitamins and minerals have to be present in ideal amounts to help the body function and essential fats are crucial too. They help form cell membranes in the body, open the door for proper metabolism of sugar in the cells and they keep our arteries healthy.
Fish oil provides the much studied DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). Evidence shows that a healthy intake of fish or fish oil supplements help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce the risk of heart attack, slow down hardening of the arteries and lower blood triglycerides. The science doesn’t stop there, two studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that regular consumption of marine sourced omega 3 could prevent age-related cognitive decline.
How much do we need?
Countries are still working towards establishing recommended intakes of EPA and DHA.
The Australian Heart Foundation recommends that we each consume about 500 milligrams of marine source omega 3 every day. People with existing heart disease should aim for about 1000 milligrams each day. Don’t get hung up on the daily numbers, it’s your total weekly intake that matters the most. You can easily achieve 3500 milligrams of Omega 3 over the week if you eat two to three serves of oily fish per week and supplement your intake with fish oil supplements. You can eat fresh, frozen or canned oily fish three times a week to obtain sufficient omega 3. The best choices are salmon, sardines, mackerel and some varieties of canned tuna.
Children and Pregnancy
Omega 3 fats play an important role in the healthy development of the unborn child. DHA in particular is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants and children. DHA is also involved in the development of the nervous system and eyes. The brain and the eye contain the greatest concentrations of DHA in the body.
A high concentration of DHA can be found in mother's breast milk and is the major source of DHA for infants during breastfeeding. A breastfeeding mother can only supply a baby with what she has available in her own body stores, so consequently it’s important for her to ensure that she is consuming adequate DHA in her diet.
Vegetarian Omega 3
The largest source of plant-based omega 3 is from flax oil. Other sources are almonds, walnuts, pine nuts and green leafy vegetables. Plant sources contain a short-chain fatty acid called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). ALA needs to be converted in the body into EPA and DHA. This conversion can be low. Typically less than 10% of ALA is converted to DHA and less than 20% of ALA is converted to EPA.
What to look for in a supplement
Read the label when choosing a supplement. Just because the label says 1000 mg doesn’t mean that it contains EPA and DHA. Beware of cheap bulk supplements or see-through containers, fish oil is highly sensitive to heat, light and oxygen. The Therapeutic Goods Administration requires that fish oil supplements are mercury free. Fish oil is sourced form small fish such as anchovies, herring, mackerel and sardines.
Reducing our overall intake of other fats and increasing our omega 3 fats is one of the most practical things we can do for our health and longevity.